In case you haven’t seen or heard, there’s a big ol’ uproar over a leaked phone call between ESPN’s Rachel Nichols and Adam Mendelsohn, adviser to LeBron James. In this call, Nichols basically says that fellow host, Maria Taylor, got the 2020 NBA finals pre-game and postgame hosting gig because she’s Black. Many people are shocked by this news, but I have to say, I’m not surprised at all.
It’s not the same, Rachel
In the call, Nichols says, “If you need to give her (Taylor) more things to do because you are feeling pressure about your crappy longtime record on diversity — which, by the way, I know personally from the female side of it — like, go for it. Just find it somewhere else. You are not going to find it from me or taking my thing away.” Nichols saying she knows the same challenges Taylor faces because she is also a woman is maddening. I have no doubt that Nichols had her share of challenges in her career, which is dominated by men. I also have no doubt that Taylor had more challenges as a Black woman. Way more. Like, way way way way way more. Rachel, see how both things can be true but not the same? It’s not that hard. According to the Census Bureau data of 2018, white women made $0.79 for every $1.00 white men made. Black women made $0.62 for every $1.00 white men made.
Black women continue to be disrespected
Last year, I wrote a piece about how the WNBA needs to be credited for their part in the fight for social justice. In it, I included a quote from Malcolm X – “The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman. The most neglected person in America is the Black woman.” And here we have yet another example of this. I think much of the shock and surprise people feel about this leaked call comes from the fact that Nichols seemed to be an ally. This leaked call was as surprising to me as Roman and Tej going to space in the latest Fast & Furious movie. That means it wasn’t surprising at all, by the way.
To me, Rachel Nichols is the personification of posting a black square on Instagram. Remember that? When everyone posted a black square to their Instagram feed to show solidarity for the Black Lives Matter movement? It made everyone feel like they were taking action to fight racism without actually doing anything. And of course, Rachel Nichols herself posted one.
False allyship hurts more
To be “fair”, Rachel Nichols also has several other social media posts in support of Black Lives Matter. But that’s just it. This is why people are, and should be, angry. Retweeting antiracist tweets, making Instagram posts about the Black Lives Matter movement, sharing antiracist resources to your stories – they are all good things, but they don’t mean anything if you don’t practice them every day. In public and in private. Otherwise, it’s virtue signaling and it’s f*cking gross.
This private conversation between Nichols and Mendelsohn confirms what BIPOC people already know but wish wasn’t the case – that most self-proclaimed “allies” aren’t allies at all. They are “allies” on social media, they are “allies” when people are watching. But when it means they don’t get something they feel they are entitled to, forget it.
Why this isn’t woman vs. woman
What really grinds my gears is that Mendelsohn suggests that this is ESPN pitting two women against one another. He said, “it’s just so very white male for them to turn two women on each other to compete over the one spot that they’re dangling over them”. Let’s be crystal clear here. This is not about two women against each other. If it was another white woman who received the job, what would Rachel Nichols have said? “I guess she was just more deserving of it”? “She’s done an amazing job this year and she earned the position”? Yeah, both of those would work given the actual situation, but it’s not what she said.
Nichols chose to bring up race as the reason Taylor got the job. That kind of thinking and the use of that language is how “allies” perpetuate white supremacy. I’m not saying Nichols doesn’t have the right to be upset about not getting the job. But to suggest that Taylor didn’t earn her position with her own hard work and talent and just got the job because ESPN is trying to save face is harmful.
People need to continue to be called out
I’m not one for cancel culture unless someone really deserves it (Harvey Weinstein, for example), so no, I don’t think Rachel Nichols should be canceled. I do believe she deserves to be called out for what she said, though. I doubt that Rachel Nichols sees what she said in the call as perpetuating white supremacy. I’m sure she considers herself an ally and “woke”. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t contribute to upholding white supremacy. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t have racist beliefs. I think it’s important for us all to look at this situation and understand just how complicated white supremacy and racism in this country is. Good people who mean well continue to uphold white supremacy without realizing it. Facing those realities is uncomfortable and painful. People don’t like to feel like they’re “bad” people. But awareness and digging into that discomfort is where we can find real change.
Maria Taylor’s contract is up soon, and I hope that no matter what she/ESPN decides to do, she knows that she’s supported. I’ll leave you with this beautiful dedication to Black women Taylor posted last summer, which makes a lot of sense now.
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To me, Rachel Nichols is the personification of posting a black square on Instagram.
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